A dorm tour

This past week brought a couple wild snowstorms, which were perfect opportunities to stay indoors and organize my room. I’m living in a double in Denbigh dorm this year. I didn’t choose this room—it was assigned to me when I returned from abroad—but I’ve been very happy with my living situation. My roommate has her own bedroom that’s connected to the main room, giving us both much more privacy than a standard double. My bedroom has three tall windows, a window seat, and a fireplace (here’s a piece of Bryn Mawr lore: in 1902, Denbigh almost burned to the ground while students fought the flames with a bucket brigade; nowadays fire-lighting of any kind is prohibited in the dorms). In this blog post I’ll show you my room and how I’ve added some individuality to it.

Every room at Bryn Mawr is slightly different. This year is the first time my room came with a built-in bookshelf, which I really like because it makes it so much easier to read before bed. I don’t hoard books but I have a small collection. What makes a good bookshelf? My diary has to be in easy reach. I have some books that remind me of home, some books I found by serendipity, a couple of new books to read when I have more time.

I do my best to live minimally and avoid accumulating possessions, but art is crucial to me. I always have watercolors, markers, stickers, colored paper, and collage materials in my room. I like to get postcards every time I go to an art museum. Above my fireplace, keeping watch over a teacup from a dear friend, is a van Gogh postcard from the Philadelphia Museum of Art that reminds me to look for beauty everywhere. Rothko and Chagall radiate vibrancy and warmth over my display of good luck charms. I look at my postcard from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art whenever I leave my room: “This is God’s country. Don’t drive through it like hell.” That one is about appreciating the moment.

Above my bed is a poster I got at the beginning of my first year at Bryn Mawr. Here’s the story: I used to have a diary that had a cover with the same print, Hokusai’s The Wave. One day in high school I was sitting at my bus stop with my diary in my lap, and a car pulled up to the red light in from of me. The driver rolled down her window. In the 30 seconds before traffic started moving again, she gestured frantically at me, and I saw that her phone case had the same print as my diary. I beamed as we held up our matching waves, neither one of us able to find the words to fit the situation. The moral: there’s always someone who matches you, even if you feel alone.

On and above my desk I have some art that I made in Bryn Mawr’s art studio, Arncliffe. Some other must-haves on my desk are: stamps, envelopes, post-it notes, lip balm, and (my guilty pleasure) washi tape. I keep my lantern and my plants atop my dresser, along with a little bulletin board with more postcards—these ones all specifically remind me of my hometown of Minneapolis—and a quote that I hand-lettered which comes from a poem by Andrea Gibson.

Every dorm on campus has a slightly different personality, based on location, tradition, and who happens to be living there this year. The first floor of Denbigh can sometimes be a little loud for my liking, but overall it is a beautiful dorm and is situated very close to English House, which is perfect for me. In the next couple of months, I will go through my last room draw—the process in which we lottery into a dorm, and then a specific room in that dorm—and will find out where I’ll be living next year.

 

Bryn Mawr Reading Series: Angela Flournoy

When I was a prospective student, my college search was not very focused. I didn’t know what I wanted from my education and honestly, the entire process was extremely stressful. The one thing I was sure about was that wherever I ended up needed to be a place that valued literature, where I could surround myself with the written word, where there would be other people who loved books as much I did. I remember seeing something about Bryn Mawr’s Reading Series in a brochure and being intrigued—this school must value writing if it makes a point of inviting writers to come and speak—but I never went to even one reading until my sophomore year. I missed my beloved Louise Glück due to my own general disorganization my freshman year, and from then on made a commitment to go to every single reading that I can. Once I started, I was hooked. Last year I was able to see writers such as Edwidge Danticat, who gave a powerful reading of several essays on grieving; and Carl Phillips, with his gentle and matter-of-fact poetry.

 

One highlight from last year—and I mean a highlight of the Reading Series, but also a highlight of my sophomore year in general—was Joy Harjo. When I arrived for her reading, the  atmosphere was electric. It was standing room only. I squeezed into the back, recognizing friends and classmates from my English classes, all gazing forward with rapt attention. Her poetry, if you’ve never read it, is brutal at times, searing and not exactly confessional, but honest in a way that is hard to hear. And, although I feel conflicted about it, I admit that there was something alluring about her fame; her prolific body of work, the language she has built herself, the way she casually mentioned “Adrienne” (another legend, Adrienne Rich). When Harjo finished her final poem, I felt tears in my eyes. I looked at the student sitting next to me to see my own expression reflected back in her face.

This week I attended a reading by Angela Flournoy, author of the novel “The Turner House,” and a rising star in the literary world. Plenty of people showed up, but it didn’t feel cramped in the Goodhart Music Room, an old-fashioned hall with sumptuous green curtains on the windows, ornate chandeliers hanging from black chains, and a peaked wooden ceiling. I haven’t read any of Flournoy’s work, and it did take me a few minutes to get absorbed in the first excerpt she read from her novel. Then—at some point, I can’t say when—I slipped into the story.

 

Flournoy’s words became images in my head so rapidly that I didn’t even notice the moment of translation. I was watching a movie in my head. Maybe twenty minutes into the reading I jolted out of my trance, realizing that I had forgotten where I was and what I was watching.

 

At the end of the evening, during the Q and A, Flournoy said something, in response to a question about writing various types of characters, that I immediately wrote down: “Men make their opinions available to us, so they’re easier to write.” There were some chuckles from the (mostly female) audience. What an interesting idea. If women are taught to keep their opinions to themselves, does that make their stories harder to tell? Maybe that’s part of what makes evenings like this so special: a young woman taking the podium to tell her stories to other women.

How to: Take the blue bus!

People are usually surprised when they find out I’m taking my first Haverford class as a second semester junior. It’s pretty rare for someone to make it this long without taking advantage of the bi-co relationship. The fact is, I’ve never felt the need to venture outside of Bryn Mawr’s course catalogue. But this semester, I realized that only Spanish class that fit into my schedule was at Haverford, so I’ve started taking the blue bus every Monday and Wednesday.

The idea of taking a bus to another college campus might sound strange, so I made this video to show prospective students—or anyone who’s curious—what a normal trip to Haverford looks like for me.

My favorite off-campus spots

When I was a prospective student, I imagined myself traveling to Philadelphia every weekend to bask in the hustle and bustle of city life. In reality, though, a round trip ticket to center city is around $13, and, at least for me, represents a considerable chunk of time taken out of everything else I have to do for school. So, if I’m not constantly going into the city, how do I avoid feeling cooped up on campus? Over my years here, I’ve found a few places that are close enough to be practical, but far enough away to feel like an escape.

Luddington Library is only a few block away from Bryn Mawr’s campus. Filled with sunlight and comfortable study spaces, it’s a great place to get work done or relax with a book. My favorite place to go is the children’s area, on the top floor. During the school day it tends to be deserted, so it’s the perfect place to spread out all my papers and study. If you like to study with snacks, there’s also an area on the ground floor called The Reading Porch where food and beverages are allowed. Unfortunately, it seems to be a hit-or-miss when Bryn Mawr students who are not from the area try to apply for library cards. That being said, it can still be fun to browse the shelves and periodicals.

Although there’s a Starbucks near the train station, I prefer Hothouse Coffee for a more relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful wood floors and furnishings. Househouse is right next to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, a historic movie theater that has special showings and events. My go-to order is a mocha, and the rich chocolate is the exact rush of sugar and caffeine that I need to finish an essay outline.

Every Saturday, the blue bus (which ordinarily travels between Bryn Mawr and Haverford) makes an extra stop: Ardmore, another town on the mainline. This shuttle bus is totally free, and a convenient way to get to a number of stores. Ardmore has a very cute, walkable, small-town feel, but most of the retail is pretty upscale. I love browsing at Paper Source, a gift and crafting supply store, and clothing stores like Madewell and Urban Outfitters. I always stop at the Ardmore Farmers Market, which doesn’t feature a lot of farm-fresh produce, but it’s a really cool indoor space with vendors selling prepared foods, and some fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss the cheese stand, which usually has free samples, and a newer stall where you can sample flavored olive oils and vinaigrettes. My favorite place in the Farmers Market is the Argyle Bouquet, which sells plants, flowers, and adorable potted succulents. Over the years I’ve nurtured a little family of succulents, all of which have names and a special place in my heart. My last stop in Ardmore is usually the Sephora. I don’t wear makeup, but it’s fun to try on all the nail polishes, perfumes, and lipsticks.

The Ardmore Farmers Market

Ashbridge Memorial Park is located beside Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work, no more than a five minute walk from campus. This park is lovely place to connect with nature. Especially in the springtime, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting by the burbling creek as it trickles through the small wooded area. Local dogs and their owners often come to play on the gentle hill, while joggers make their way through the winding path. On a foggy morning the park looks as mysterious as a fairytale marsh where a coven of witches might live.

Mornings

One of my goals for the semester was to get into a more reasonable sleep schedule. Last year I was staying up until at least 2 or 3 a.m. every single day and then sleeping as late as possible. I would rush to class groggy and over-caffeinated, and I was constantly tired. This semester I’ve decided to change my ways. So far I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve been getting out of bed at a reasonable hour—even if I don’t have class!—and going to sleep before the morning gets too wee. The truth is that although I don’t always like waking up, I love the mornings. The air seems cleaner before the day starts. Campus is chilly and empty. Light slants through the buildings and trees in unexpected ways. Eating breakfast in Erdman dining hall is a much calmer experience before everyone else arrives. When my breakfast has settled, I usually have time to go to the gym or take a walk.

I took these photos on a Bryn Mawr morning last week, before the recent snowfall. I was a little too late to see the sunrise, but I still enjoyed the chilly newness of the day. The blue sky and the bright buildings, with their long shadows, reminded me of an oil painting. The beginning of the day is hard for a lot of people, and so is the beginning of a new semester. But there’s also something beautiful and exciting about the glow of a new sun.

Back in the library

Back at Bryn Mawr after a semester abroad, I’m daunted by the thought of returning to long days and nights in the library. I steel myself for the dozens of pages of reading for every class and the papers to be turned in with alarming regularity. In an effort to remind myself of what I love about academia, I stroll through the stacks of Canaday library. Getting lost among books written about subjects I know nothing about, I think of a passage from Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Gordy, a boy from a rural and often closed-minded town, takes our protagonist Arnold to the meager-looking high school library.

 

“There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here,” Gordy said. “I know that because I counted them.”

“Okay, now you’re officially a freak,” I said.

“Yes, it’s a small library. It’s a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish.”

“What’s your point?”

“The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.”

 

This idea sneaks into my life in various ways. When I was abroad, I realized that every new experience could be explored one step further, like one of those mesmerizing fractal images. You can’t understand a country without properly understanding a specific region, and then a specific town, and then by the time you even start to learn about the lives of even a few people who live there, you find yourself returning to the airport to go home. Bryn Mawr is a good place to keep uncovering mysteries. Even without attending a single class, you can tell that this is a place sodden with over a century of stories, artefacts brought from faraway places, staircases worn down by scholars’ incessant feet. And in the library, that kaleidoscope of knowledge becomes almost overwhelming. Sometimes I pull a book off the shelf at random, wondering when was the last time it was opened. I love the specificity of these titles, the obscurity. Poems by an author no one remembers. A history of a vanished kingdom. A book is meant to be used, but it is patient; it can wait indefinitely until someone needs it for just the exact piece of information, the perfect quote to round out an essay.

The homey sight of PS on a book’s spine—the Library of Congress’s code for American literature—draws me in. I love to feel durable pages worn soft from turning. Long rows of identical volumes from a set. Dulled gold to ornament a front cover. The best find of all is penciled notes in the margins. I’m not encouraging the vandalism of library books, of course, but I can’t deny the pleasure of seeing proof that someone else was once interested in the same thing I am.

Just now, as I sat writing about library books, I remember that at the end of my first year at Bryn Mawr, I was working on a paper comparing Anne Sexton’s poem “The Starry Night” with Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same name. I picture the Sexton book in my mind and remembered the annotations, so faint as to be nearly invisible. As I struggled to finish that poetry paper, the underlines and arrows reassured me I wasn’t just imagining the importance of my subject. I make my way back to the shelf where I’d left the book a year and a half ago, and there are the same pencil marks. It’s comforting. The unknown is a vast ocean, but every so often, academia can wrangle all that knowledge into a little curated pond of words remembered and treasured.